PropOrNot Doesn’t Identify Russian Propaganda

by | Dec 6, 2016


PropOrNot is the outfit that produced “The List” of 200 “Russian propaganda outlets.” The strange thing is that their published materials do not identify and prove a single vital case of Russian propaganda that actually had a vital effect on a matter of vital foreign policy or on a matter of momentous domestic concern.

What do I mean by a vital case with a vital effect on a vital matter? An example is the momentous propaganda campaign running many months and conducted by the Bush administration that had a powerful impact on public opinion in America and provided a rationale for the consequential aggression against Iraq in March, 2003. As a step toward documenting that case in detail, I wrote a lengthy article in 2005: How Did Saddam Hussein Become a Grave Threat? This article, by no means the first or last word on this subject and surely not the most complete word, shows the genesis of the campaign, its probable motivations, identifies some of its transmission mechanisms, highlights its themes and generally provides a timeline of its development, start to finish. Anyone should be able to understand the identification of the propaganda, the campaign and its aims.

PropOrNot has so far not documented even a single case like this. They haven’t shown that Russian sources instigated a consequential campaign of false or misleading statements that had a vital aim and a vital effect on a vital issue. PropOrNot claims that Russia originated fake news and that 200 websites propagated this fake news and that this influenced the US election. They have made this claim in general terms. They haven’t documented it specifically. They haven’t said what the fake news was or what its aim was upon the election or whether or not it actually influenced the election in a way that achieved its aims. What was the propaganda? How did these 200 “outlets” (websites) propagate the fake news? How did it affect the election?

In the case of the Bush propaganda campaign leading up to the attack on Iraq, we know quite well exactly what happened. We know who, what, why, how and when. For the PropOrNot allegations, we have no firm knowledge of any answers to these important questions that journalists once routinely answered in their articles. From PropOrNot, we have only broad and vague allegations, and not really even those in full. One can read the PropOrNot reports and still not know what the fake news was, who started it, what its goal was and what the impact of this alleged fake news was.

PropOrNot is biased in favor of US militarism, interventionism and the Empire. This is clearly evident when it lists the criteria, 18 of them, by which it identifies “Russian propaganda outlets” such as,,, and Number 16 is especially revealing about their agenda. A website is flagged if it promotes:

a. Conspiracy theories about and protests against US military exercises (‘Jade Helm’),
b. Isolationism and ‘anti-interventionism’ for the US but not for Russia,
c. Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone,
d. Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad,…

Logically, there are many respectable political positions and reasons, other than favoring Russia or Russian positions, why one might support one or more of these positions. One can not deduce that an outlet is a “Russian propaganda outlet” by observing support for these positions. But that is what PropOrNot does openly, admitting that it will classify an outlet as Russian propaganda even if that outlet has nothing directly to do with Russia or Russian money or support of Russian positions. Thus, any British voter who voted for Brexit becomes a tool of Russian propaganda; and any writer or outlet who suggests that interventionism is not in America’s best interests becomes a useful idiot for the Russians.

This kind of defective “reasoning” undermines PropOrNot. There is propaganda emanating from many governments, Russia and the US included. It sets us back if we attempt to handle it the way that PropOrNot has done so far. I have a number of blogs that Russia Insider has picked up and cites. (See here.) Anything I write is public domain. In these cases, the causation runs from my mind, operating in my kitchen, to Russia Insider, not the other way around. I don’t read Russian sources. I don’t communicate with Russians. I have no financial ties to Russia or Russians. I have turned down all interviews with Russian sources and American sources alike. I prefer to do research, think, and write, and that’s it. My concerns about American Empire pre-date the 2016 election period by many years, and the same certainly goes for Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, Justin Raimondo, David Stockman and many other persons. They are not taking positions based upon Russian propaganda. That is a certainty. They have held the same positions for a very long time. PropOrNot is all wet in these cases.

In my blog of April 14, 2015 (reproduced on the Russia Insider site), I wrote two paragraphs that sought to prevent the false kind of reasoning that PropOrNot is engaged in, which is that if I recommend yoga and Putin recommends yoga, then I must be pro-Russian or a tool of Russian propaganda. I wrote:

The libertarian refrain calling for US disengagement from Ukraine (and other of the Empire’s venues) strikes some as being either pro-Russian or not anti-Russian enough. This is a false conclusion that doesn’t follow from a non-interventionist stance. It only follows from a non-libertarian perspective of supposing that the US should be helping Ukraine achieve independence from Russian pressures. But such so-called help is destroying Ukraine and promises worse to come.

Criticism of Kiev’s administration and its war against Donbas likewise strikes some as pro-Russian. This too is a false conclusion. The making of war by any state against breakaway regions or regions seeking autonomy or constitutional changes or secession is anti-libertarian.

The people running PropOrNot have a technical bent. They are very interested in detecting the linkages of stories across web sites as an exciting or provocative headline attracts attention; many of their criteria have to do with these associations. That’s not enough, by any means, to understand whether or not a propaganda campaign is being instituted by Russian sources and whether or not it’s succeeding in doing what it sets out to do. Finding sites that express opinions or simply present stories that one thinks are similar to Russian sources is not enough. By their methods, they’ve come up with 200 sites. But have they identified a single instance of a big campaign that was clearly concocted from lies and misinformation on a big issue that had a big effect on something of importance, like the recent election? We actually cannot say what caused millions of people to vote as they did. We can’t say what issue or issues made the difference. We can’t say what the election was a referendum on. Ever since the election, there has been an outpouring of interpretations that claim one issue or another as the one that made the difference at the margin. Truthfully, there is absolutely no way of inferring this from voting totals.

PropOrNot has a legitimate interest in a legitimate problem, taking it at face value and not itself as an instrument with some hidden agenda. That is to say, propaganda is a legitimate problem, displayed by Russian, American, French, British, and many other governments. PropOrNot can go off half-cocked if it wants to on this matter; but I enjoy seeing Naked Capitalism launch a defamation suit against it. My own opinion is that it’s a biased outfit, overly afraid of the Russian influence, half-baked, jumping the gun, badly researched, in love with its technology, and overly secretive. It purports to be scientific but it doesn’t operate in the least by scientific standards. It has a clear interest in smearing the 200 websites, or else it would have done significantly more research and written a very different and much more open kind of research report detailing its results.

This is not to conclude that every web site that PropOrNot lists is one that is immune to Russian influence or not a direct tool of Russia or some other state. I don’t read these 200 sites as a rule, and in some cases it’s because I think a lot of what’s said is problematic or worthless to me. I’ve encountered stories like what PropOrNot refers to and I’ve filtered them out myself, using my own common sense and experience. I’ve got my own sense of what sites may be biased or what stories within a given site are unworthy of consideration. PropOrNot lists some of these sites I’ve run into. They are ones that might have some facts that one cannot find elsewhere, but one has to be careful and trace down the basic sources and/or look for several independent sources. Some of these writers and sites have a clear axe to grind. Some have disparate views. It’s not hard after awhile to tell when an article is struggling to fit facts into a preconceived view of the world and having a hard time doing it. It’s not too hard to tell when “facts” are being arranged to support a position. It’s more work, however, to go back and read original sources in order to find when quotations are taken out of context or so-called facts have a shaky basis.

I do not think that bias is the same as propaganda. They may overlap to some extent in that messages may tend to take one side. But propaganda is typically worse than bias in promoting a larger scale manipulation of opinion and events; propaganda really goes against the grain in creating a reality that is more all-encompassing in its falsity with the potential for far more evil results. What exactly was this false reality that the alleged Russian campaign of falsity and fake news was attempting to create? I simply cannot tell from reading PropOrNot’s web site. I do not see how writers who had an opinion on Brexit, anti-militarism and anti-interventionism that the PropOrNot people dislike entitles them to attribute this position to a Russian disinformation campaign, even if one can trace out some sort of diagrams that suggest how readers may possibly negotiate paths through sites or how sites pick up stories one from another.

I think it’s ludicrous that PropOrNot has made its 200 list the default position. They invite anyone on their list to prove to them that they have the right loyalties and understandings to get their names removed! My reaction to that is “Screw you, buddy! Where do you get off with such arrogance? Who are you, anyway? What do you know? Is this how you propose to be scientific? You’re lucky to get a hearing. If it were not for the rag named the Washington Post, where would you be?”

Reprinted with permission from


  • Michael S. Rozeff

    Rozeff has published articles on stock market pricing, earnings forecasting, corporate dividend policy, corporate divestiture, insider trading and the Asian stock markets. He has been associate editor of several finance journals. Rozeff's recent articles on economics and politics are archived at

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